St. Francis of Assisi’s Focus and Perfect Joy
Francis was always very focused. He insisted on being focused. We believe he feared that if he veered even a micro-millimeter from his focal point, he was lost. He never considered himself very intelligent, or an eloquent speaker. But when you have a direct pipeline to the Holy Spirit, how smart do you have to be? You just let God’s Words flow through you, and you will be considered the most brilliant of all men, and perhaps the most despised.
An excellent example of Francis’ focus was his definition of Perfect Joy. It’s an outlook that, if adopted, is almost a guarantee that you’ll never be disappointed. Francis and Brother Leo were returning to Santa Maria degli Angeli. Francis said to Brother Leo,
“Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is still more, brings back to life a man who has been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not in that.”
They walked along silently for a short distance. Francis was becoming emotional. He cried out loudly,
“Brother Leo, if a Friar Minor knew all languages and all sciences and Scripture, if he also knew how to prophesy and to reveal not only the future but also the secrets of the consciences and minds of others, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”
Then once again, a little farther on, Francis cried out to Brother Leo,
“Brother Leo, little lamb of God, even if a Friar Minor could speak with the voice of an Angel, and knew the courses of the stars and the powers of herbs, and knew all about the treasures in the earth, and if he knew the qualities of birds and fishes, animals, humans, roots, trees, rocks, and waters, write down and note carefully that true joy is not in that.”
Brother Leo knew that Francis was on a roll. He also knew if he didn’t finally ask the question, this would continue on until they reached Assisi. But he remained silent. Then Father Francis called out again,
“Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor could preach so well that he should convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that perfect joy is not there.”
By this time, the discourse had been going on for two miles. Leo decided it was time. He cried out to Francis, whom he loved more than life. “Father, I beg you in God’s name to tell me where perfect joy is!” That was all Francis needed. He cried out with such delight,
“When we come to St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the Place and the brother porter comes and says angrily, `Who are you?’ And we say, `We are two of your brothers’, and he contradicts us, saying, `You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away!’ And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls – then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that that porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!
“And if we continue to knock, and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows like bothersome scoundrels, saying, `Get away from here, you dirty thieves – go to the hospital! Who do you think you are? You certainly won’t eat or sleep here!’ – and if we bear it patiently and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts, oh, Brother Leo, write that that is perfect joy!
“And if later, suffering intensely from hunger and the painful cold, with night falling, we still knock and call, and crying loudly beg them to open for us and let us come in for the love of God, and he grows still more angry and says, `Those fellows are bold and shameless ruffians. I’ll give them what they deserve!’ And he comes out with a knotty club, and grasping us by the cowl throws us onto the mud and snow, and beats us with that club so much that he covers our bodies with wounds – if we endure all those evils and insults and blows with joy and patience, reflecting that we must for love of Him, oh, Brother Leo, write, that is perfect joy!
“And now hear the conclusion, Brother Leo. Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to His friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ. For we cannot glory in all those other marvelous gifts of God, as they are not ours but God’s, as the Apostles say, `What have you that you have not received?’
“But we can glory in the cross of tribulations and afflictions, because that is ours, and so the Apostles say, `I will not glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ!’”
Francis’ philosophy was simple. He wanted to live the Gospel life. True, he wanted to go out to teach all nations, and there must have been a certain amount of joy at the beginning, when the fraternity grew so rapidly. Brothers were going all over Europe, preaching the Gospel. But he knew why he had to be a ramrod in his persistence. He knew he could not go to the right or to the left; he had to remain in the center of his vision, or he would lose it.
Francis considered anything other than the basic, ground-zero commitment to poverty and the Gospel, as distraction. He feared that distraction would lead to division. Too many books would clutter the mind; the Gospel would become vague. He didn’t want his Friars to read too much. There was nothing that could top the Gospel, was there? And that’s what their calling was, wasn’t it? He was happy with the little huts they had begun with, nestled all around the Portiuncola. He and the brothers could go off preaching for months at a time, and come back, to find that nothing had been disturbed, because there was nothing of any value to steal.
A perfect example of Francis’ philosophy took place when he was invited to have dinner at a Bishop’s home. Francis asked for the discarded bread. The Bishop asked Francis to at least eat the fresh bread. Francis’ reply was, “If I eat the fresh bread, I will want to eat the gravy. And if I eat the gravy, I will want to eat the meat.” Francis knew exactly who he was. He knew who his Friars were. Theirs was such a rigid, difficult road to walk, the slightest breach of a rule could make the entire structure crumble. Francis knew that. Unfortunately, others of his Fraternity did not.
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Saint Francis’s Prayer Before the Crucifix
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me
true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out
Your holy and true command. Amen.